Holy Week 2016 started with the customary Christian observance of Palm Sunday, a brief moment that celebrates Christ’s triumphant entry into Jerusalem before the terrible tragedy of his betrayal and crucifixion, all of which precedes the joy and mystery of the Resurrection celebrated on Easter Sunday. For those of us who are Christian and Catholic, these rituals are embedded in our annual cycles and historical memories, patterning our understanding of the cycles of life, death, faith and hope.
World events are constant reminders of the great struggle between the presence of evil that seeks to annihilate life, and the moral force of justice that is essential for hope and peace to flourish. This is the story of Holy Week 2016, a season of remembrance and hope shattered by bombs in Brussels, the forces of evil destroying lives and perpetrating still more grief and tragedy through incomprehensible acts of terrorism. Easter will come soon on the calendar, but the suffering and anguish in Europe and throughout the world will not dissipate so quickly.
One of the great dangers of this moment in history arises in the fact that the perpetrators of terrorism use the mask of religion as their rationale for murder. This cynical claim to faith as a reason for actions that betray all rational beliefs has had a devastating effect on Muslims, in particular, but it also undermines the Christian faith in the way it tempts some Christians to abandon their essential moral principles in favor of expressing hatred, fear and a large desire to oppress those who embrace Islam. As much as we must root out the terrorists who betray Islam by using its name as a cover for homicide, we must also confront our Christian family when some among us advocate actions against Muslims that are clearly the antithesis of the Christian response to even the gravest of evils.
Examples abound in the political world — presidential candidates who advocate banning Muslims from entry to the United States, or creating something akin to the Warsaw Ghetto by surrounding and locking down Muslim communities in this country on the theory that they harbor terrorists. Shame on any presidential aspirant who stoke and exploit the fear that is rising among U.S. citizens for the sake of votes!
But large political postures aside, we can see the consequences of fear and oppression of those who adhere to Muslim faith teachings in some very prosaic situations that are more local. Yesterday, at a D.C. Public Library, a police officer allegedly harassed and forced a woman wearing a hijab to leave the library — a place that should be open to all people — while the woman was quietly reading. Fortunately, library officials moved quickly to place the officer on administrative leave while they investigate the situation, and they also issued a statement assuring the public that the public library system is open to all.
But the incident is an example of the prejudice and fear that are coursing through our local and national communities right now. Terrorism wins when the consequences of evil acts lead to more hatred and oppression.
History is replete with notorious examples of the bad use of faith principles as an excuse to slaughter, invade, oppress and otherwise betray the true meaning of faith. Christians must not be so arrogant and clueless about Muslims; our own history is pretty blood-stained.
Even as we grieve for the victims of terrorism — this week in Belgium, last year in Paris, and Istanbul and Syria and the ongoing horrors in places in Africa and Asia that the western press gloss over too often — we must not abandon the fundamental moral values of our many shared faith traditions. Whether we profess Christianity or Judaism or Islam or Buddhism or Hindu other other faiths, we must insist on protection of human rights and dignity for all people, which includes freedom of religion and expression.
In this Holy Week, we extend our condolences to the victims of the Brussels terrorism, a ritual that is all too familiar. Let’s use this week of renewal for the Christian faith to reaffirm our moral values in solidarity with people of all faiths, to protect and lift up the value of human life, to restore hope to communities beset with fear and violence, and to achieve that kind of justice in service to others that is essential for hope and peace to flourish.